UC Riverside geneticist receives highest honor from Botanical Society of America

May 14, 2009

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics in UC Riverside's Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, has been elected as one of this year's four Botanical Society of America (BSA) Merit Award recipients.

The BSA Merit Award is the society's highest honor, granted for "outstanding contributions to botanical science," recognizing truly exceptional scientists in plant biology. Some past Merit Award recipients have won the Nobel Prize, National Medal of Science or election to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

Ellstrand joined the UCR faculty in 1979 following a year's postdoctoral stint at Duke University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1978. His varied awards range from a Fulbright Fellowship to Sweden in 1993 to being named a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2000.

Ellstrand studies plant population genetics and is one of the country's foremost experts on plant gene flow, the movement of genes from one organism to another. His research has involved the study of the possibility of escape of genes from genetically engineered crops into their wild relatives as well as the potential consequences of that escape.

His work has shown that crops can mate with their wild relatives at rates and distances much higher than previously supposed. He also has shown that the hybrids are often more fit than suspected, suggesting that once transgenes occur in hybrids they will spread readily. Ellstrand has warned that if transgenes confer an advantage to a weed, such as herbicide resistance, that weed will become more difficult to control.

His recent research has come to focus on the evolution of invasiveness in plants. He was among the first to suggest that invasive species could evolve from relatively innocuous progenitors.

Ellstrand is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed research papers. He is author also of the book Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives (John Hopkins University Press, 2003) and is scientific advisor to the movie "Basmati Blues."

The 2009 BSA Merit Awards will be presented at the society's annual meeting, scheduled to take place in Snowbird, Utah, on July 29, 2009.

"Dr. Ellstrand's long and productive career sets him apart from the majority of our membership, and the awards committee was enthusiastically unanimous in naming him as one of this year's honorees," said Karl J. Niklas, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Biology at Cornell University and the president of the BSA.
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The BSA promotes botany, the field of basic science dealing with the study and inquiry into the form, function, development, diversity, reproduction, evolution, and uses of plants and their interactions within the biosphere. It is one of the world's largest societies devoted to the study of plants and allied organisms. The society's Merit Award was instigated in 1956.

The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment of about 17,000 is expected to grow to 21,000 students by 2020. The campus is planning a medical school and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. To learn more, visit www.ucr.edu or call (951) UCR-NEWS.

University of California - Riverside

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